When Jill Cady of Little Rock learned she had Celiac disease a decade ago, she made it her mission to find the best and highest quality foods. Today, she couldn’t imagine cooking without the wonderful olive oil that has become a staple of her family’s diet.
When her oil source Saggio closed down in 2018, Cady decided to open her own store, and the Robust Olive was born. It is a specialty store in Little Rock with a tasting room that sells extra virgin olive oil, infused olive oils, and balsamic products.
“I was devastated by the loss of the previous store,” Cady said. “I loved the products. For my own health, I felt that I had to do it. I really believe that the products are superior to what we can get in the grocery store and are better for your health.”
Consuming high-quality olive oil has many health benefits, including lowering LDL cholesterol and blood pressure as well as a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses.
As a new business owner, Cady explored the free resources provided by the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC), based at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
“I was struggling with balancing my advertising budget with sales and staying within a reasonable budget,” she said. “I felt like I needed someone with experience to help me. I made a lot of rookie mistakes that first year with overextending my advertising when there were options, like social media, that I could have employed better.”
With the help of her ASBTDC business consultant, Nicolas Mayerhoeffer, Cady received some new strategies to promote her business.
“I was able to work with her on her overall marketing strategy and value proposition through the marketing map created by the ASBTDC,” Mayerhoeffer said. “We were able to guide her to identifying community partners to leverage her store as well as marketing tactics to make her store more visible.”
While Cady expected many challenges while starting a business, a pandemic wasn’t one of them.
“Nicolas was essential for me to know where to go to apply for the grants and loans,” Cady said. “He was very helpful with giving me the direction on where to find all those applications and the encouragement of increasing our sanitary policies and our social media presence. He made sure that I was still posting regularly, pushing that we were still open, had curbside service, and delivery.”
Knowing how to apply for loans and other funding has been an essential way the ASBTDC has helped local businesses during the pandemic.
“In regard to the Covid19, ASBTDC helped the Robust Olive to navigate all SBA programs as well as the AEDC assistance,” Mayerhoeffer said. “We worked with the client to navigate the various economic injury loan programs and provided comprehensive information for both programs to include the criteria for eligibility, the process of applying, and features of the financing program.”
Cady kept the doors open during the pandemic, though for only four hours per day in March and April. She introduced strategies like curbside pickup and free delivery and is hopeful business will pick up now that the second phase of re-opening has begun in Arkansas.
“In the first month of the pandemic, we had steady business and people were stocking up on supplies,” she said. “In May, it came to a screeching halt. We’ve adopted all the new sanitary guidelines. We offer curbside pickup and free delivery in town. We go as far as Cabot, Conway, and Benton. Outside of that area, we have free shipping as well. We want to make it as consumer friendly as possible. We sanitize after every customer. I made sure to stay positive that we would all work through this. Staying open was key.”